Our ears may possibly be our most abused body part. We pierce them, subject them to deafening noise, stuff cotton swabs inside them, and burn them with ear candling. In spite of providing us with one of our most vital senses, we never give our ears, or our hearing, much gratitude or thought.
That is, right until there are problems. Then, we grasp just how essential healthy hearing really is—and how we ought to have practiced proper ear care earlier. The secret is to realize this before the harm is done.
If you want to avoid issues and safeguard your hearing, avoid these 4 dangerous practices.
1. Ear Candling
Ear candling is a method of removing earwax, and also, as one researcher put it, “the triumph of ignorance over science.”
Here’s how ear candling is accomplished. One end of a narrow tube composed of cotton and beeswax is inserted into the ear. The opposite end is set on fire, which supposedly creates a vacuum of negative pressure that draws earwax up into the tube.
Except that it doesn’t, for two reasons.
First of all, the ear candle doesn’t create negative pressure. As explained by Lisa M.L. Dryer, MD, earwax is sticky, so even if negative pressure was created, the pressure required to suck up earwax would end up rupturing the eardrum.
Second, while the wax and ash resemble earwax, no earwax is actually found within the ear candle after the therapy. Clinical psychologist Philip Kaushall investigated this by burning some ear candles the conventional way and burning other candles without placing them into the ear. The residue was exactly the same for both groups.
Ear candling is also risky and is fervently opposed by both the FDA and the American Academy of Otolaryngology (physicians specializing in the ear, nose, and throat), if you require any other reasons not to do it.
2. Employing cotton swabs to clean your ears
We’ve covered this in other posts, but inserting any foreign object into your ear only presses the earwax against the eardrum, generating an impaction and potentially a ruptured eardrum and hearing loss.
Your earwax is made up of helpful antibacterial and lubricating properties, and is organically removed by the regular motions of the jaw (from talking and chewing). All that’s required from you is standard showering, or, if you do have trouble with excessive earwax, a professional cleaning from your hearing specialist.
But don’t take our word for it: just look at the back of the packaging of any box of cotton swabs. You’ll find a warning from the producers themselves advising you to not enter the ear canal with their product.
3. Listening to excessively loud music
Our ears are simply not equipped to deal with the loud sounds we’ve discovered how to generate. In fact, any sound louder than 85 decibels has the potential to create irreversible hearing loss.
How loud is 85 decibels?
A regular conversation registers at about 60, while a rock concert registers at over 100. But here’s the thing about the decibel scale: it’s logarithmic, not linear. Which means the jump from 60 to 100 does not make the rock concert twice as loud, it makes it about 16 times as loud!
In the same way, many earbuds can generate a comparable output of 100 decibels or higher—all from within the ear canal. It’s no surprise then that this can produce permanent harm.
If you would like to preserve your hearing, make sure to wear earplugs to live shows (and on-the-job if needed) and keep your portable music player volume at about 60 percent or less of its max volume (with a 60 minute listening time limit). It may not be cool to wear earplugs to your next concert, but untimely hearing loss is not much cooler.
4. Ignoring the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Finally, we have the troubling fact that people have the tendency to wait almost 10 years from the beginning of symptoms before seeking help for their hearing loss.
That means two things: 1) people unnecessarily suffer the consequences of hearing loss for ten years, and 2) they render their hearing loss much harder to treat.
It’s true that hearing aids are not perfect, but it’s also true that with modern technology, hearing aids are extraordinarily effective. The extent of hearing you get back will be based on on the degree of your hearing loss, and seeing as hearing loss has a tendency to become worse as time passes, it’s best to get tested and treated the moment you notice any symptoms.